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Cities, Counties Join New Initiative to Focus on Kindergarten Readiness

Several national organizations are coming together to work on increasing kindergarten readiness for children from birth to age 3.

The National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, Center for the Study of Social Policy, National Institute for Children's Health Quality and StriveTogether are partnering to focus on what medical professionals say is a critical time period for brain development.

The Pritzker Children's Initiative, which is a part of the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation, is funding the partnership and will provide more than $6.5 million during the one-year pilot program with plans to supply more money in the future. The funds will be used to support programs for infants, toddlers, and their families. The partnership will be managed by the initiative and by the Sorenson Impact Center at the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business.

Thumbnail image for preschool-empty-swings-600x292blog-Copyright-Getty.jpgTonja Rucker is the program director for early-childhood success at the National League of Cities. She also holds a doctorate degree in human development.

She said when they hear the term "kindergarten readiness," most people think of 3- and 4-year-olds, and many cities have responded by offering programs for this age group, but municipal leaders are recognizing that children need critical support from birth.

"What they're finding is that the kids that come to those programs that are designed for 3- and 4-year-olds, they're coming in a little bit delayed, and they're seeing we need to get in there earlier," said Rucker.

The partnership will focus on developing initiatives that support pregnant women and families with infants and toddlers. It will also work to ensure greater access to high-quality early-learning programs, and local communities will be encouraged to share best practices with their peers around the nation.

Local Leaders Step Up

Historically, early-learning initiatives primarily have been spearheaded at the federal and state level. But recently there have been no new federal programs designed to increase kindergarten readiness.

Rucker said this partnership was built partly in response to that.

"Cities have recognized there is a lot of gridlock at the federal and state level," said Rucker. "There is a sense of we've got to figure some things out and just rally around children and families."

She said such work is just as important for cities as road maintenance or telecommunications.

"It's part of the city infrastructure," said Rucker. "A lot of our members recognize that, and they're eager to learn more about what they can do to support [prenatal care to age 3]." 

Maeghan Gilmore is the National Association of Counties' program director for health, human services, and justice. She said supporting families with young children is just as important for counties, which already invest $80 billion in health and human services a year, and many of those programs touch infants and toddlers.

"Our counties have recognized the need and the opportunity and the positioning they have to address early-childhood development and family issues," said Gilmore. "They're a perfect fit to join in with other partners on this initiative to really impact children [birth to 3] and the families of those children."

Image by Getty

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